It's all too easy to judge the women who shared their stories in a recent New York Times Magazine piece, "The Two-Minus-One Pregnancy," on couples who chose to "reduce" (the polite euphemism, apparently, for "abort") one of their perfectly healthy, unborn twins. And we wouldn't be wrong for looking at the article as a disturbingly clear reflection of a society that has grown so selfish, fearful and closed to love that it can rationalize robbing a child of its sibling -- not necessarily because of financial stress, or a dire medical diagnosis, or rape, or any of the other usual reasons abortion advocates will often offer, but because, as one obstetrician quoted in the piece shares:
“I couldn’t have imagined reducing twins for nonmedical reasons,” she said, “but I had an amnio and would have had an abortion if I found out that one of the babies had an anomaly, even if it wasn’t life-threatening. I didn’t want to raise a handicapped child. Some people would call that selfish, but I wouldn’t. Parents who abort for an anomaly just don’t want that life for themselves, and it’s their prerogative to fashion their lives how they want. Is terminating two to one really any different morally?”
And yet, there's a distinct tone of sadness that emanates from writer Ruth Padawer's reporting. Padawer, who found out she was pregnant with twins when her oldest child was two, acknowledges that she's shared in the sheer panic that can overwhelm parents when they find out they're expecting multiples. But even most of the health professionals she interviewed who said they support abortion rights in general expressed serious reservations about reducing healthy twins to a "singleton." It's revealing, in an age when abortion advocates seek above all else to normalize the procedure and make it acceptable in the eyes of society, that almost all the couples Padawer spoke to wished to remain anonymous.
...[One patient], a New York woman, was certain that she wanted to reduce from twins to a singleton. Her husband yielded because she would be the one carrying the pregnancy and would stay at home to raise them. They came up with a compromise. “I asked not to see any of the ultrasounds,” he said. “I didn’t want to have that image, the image of two. I didn’t want to torture myself. And I didn’t go in for the procedure either, because less is more for me.” His wife was relieved that her husband remained in the waiting room; she, too, didn’t want to deal with his feelings.
Aside from the obvious -- that both the abortion and the child who remains will inevitably be a source of tension, misunderstanding and hurt in this couple's marriage (she "didn't want to deal with his feelings"?!) -- what strikes me is that despite all their rationalizing and certainty that aborting one of the twins was the right choice -- the choice that, above all, respected the mother -- there remains a very real, very visceral sense that it was wrong. That sense appears throughout the rest of the article, among both parents and medical professionals struggling to unite an ethical standard with their support of women's access to abortion.
At the National Catholic Register, Jennifer Fulwiler -- a convert to Catholicism from atheim -- takes a thought-provoking approach to the NYT piece, saying this is "What Pro-Choice Intellectual Honesty Looks Like." Pointing out the fact that many of these twins-to-singleton abortions are ironically the result of expensive in vitro fertilization (in which multiple embryos are implanted in the woman in hopes of at least one surviving), Fulwiler highlights one quote in particular from a woman who aborted one of her two, healthy babies:
She was 45 and pregnant after six years of fertility bills, ovulation injections, donor eggs and disappointment—and yet here she was, 14 weeks into her pregnancy, choosing to extinguish one of two healthy fetuses, almost as if having half an abortion. As the doctor inserted the needle into Jenny’s abdomen, aiming at one of the fetuses, Jenny tried not to flinch, caught between intense relief and intense guilt.
“Things would have been different if we were 15 years younger or if we hadn’t had children already or if we were more financially secure,” she said later. “If I had conceived these twins naturally, I wouldn’t have reduced this pregnancy, because you feel like if there’s a natural order, then you don’t want to disturb it. But we created this child in such an artificial manner—in a test tube, choosing an egg donor, having the embryo placed in me—and somehow, making a decision about how many to carry seemed to be just another choice. The pregnancy was all so consumerish to begin with, and this became yet another thing we could control.”
(As a sidenote, critics may scoff at Catholics' belief that both contraception and artificial means of conception ultimately cheapen the value of human life -- and yet the above quote nails the Church's reasoning within the space of three sentences).
The women in the story who chose to abort, Fulwiler says, were merely following pro-choice logic to its conclusion: "An abortion is merely a process of 'emptying the uterus' of 'tissue' — so what’s the big deal if there are multiple pieces of tissue and the doctor only eliminates one? According to the tenets of the pro-choice position, this should be completely fine."
Real intellectual honesty from abortion advocates, she concludes, would seriously consider that disconnect between the medical staff who regularly perform abortions but balk at the thought of arbitrarily choosing one twin's life over the other. There are glimpses of that honesty in Pedawer's article -- will we ever see it fully unveiled?
-- Elizabeth Hansen